MBW 928: Hey, At Least They're Reading

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Apple’s examination of infrared sensors for future products (MBW 928 @17:00) is noteworthy. There are strong arguments that red and near-infrared (NIR) lighting have a positive impact on our health. The field is called photobiomodulation; there’s a growing Google Docs spreadsheet listing over 7900 science papers on the topic.

Initial LEDs for light bulbs focused on the visible spectrum; these “efficient” lights generate almost no light in the IR spectrum. Incandescent bulbs – OG bulbs – pump out almost half their energy in the IR spectrum. While the LED industry focused on the visible spectrum, LEDs can be fabricated to produce frequencies in a far broader range. This is shown with graphs in a wonderful science paper Melatonin and the Optics of the Human Body (2019). I highly recommend going to that site and downloading/viewing a PDF of the paper.

Our OG source of lighting is the sun; “get out in the sunlight” will always be excellent advice. Zimmerman’s paper notes our recent decreases exposure to IR light: spending the majority of our time indoors, narrow spectrum lighting, “low-E” glass that keeps IR from sunlight outside. In short, we are starved for IR radiation. We should care because red/NIR light is responsible for melatonin production in our mitochondria and for efficient production of ATP in general. ATP production through the Krebs Cycle is a complicated operation; free radicals can be produced at several steps in the operation. Melatonin (a powerful antioxidant) in proximity is the first-line defense to the ravages of free radicals – teeny tiny molecular bombs. In case anyone is curious, oral Melatonin supplementation has negligible impact on mitochondrial melatonin levels.

The paper says it better than I can, and it has great pictures. One of the astonishing things in recent science is how far red/NIR radiation will penetrate the body:

Based on optical models the author has calculated that a significant number of NIR photons penetrate a minimum of 8 cm on average in the skin.

If those optical models are correct, that means that the vast majority of the human tissue is accessible to red/NIR radiation.

The remedies for low red/NIR exposure are pretty easy. Getting out in the sunlight at sunrise and sunset are both highly valuable. The sun is mostly red/NIR in at sunrise and sunset; UVA and UVB rise in intensity as the angle gets high in the sky. Apps like DMINDER can show your daily and seasonal variations in the sun’s angle in the sky.

Sprinkling around a few screw-in bulbs that generate red/NIR light from companies like BlockBlueLight can make a huge difference. Limiting normal “blue light” LEDs and adopting red LEDs for night lights is also an excellent idea. I will be quite happy when all these products become widely available from local stores.

Some enthusiasts will get “red light panels”, which generate red/NIR light at higher intensities. I personally have a small 60-LED panel from Mito Red Light. Half of the LEDs are in the red spectrum (two different frequencies) and half are in the NIR spectrum (again two different frequencies). The controller lets me select either all the red LEDs, all the NIR LEDs, or both. It’s got a wonky little control panel with 3 buttons and a non-intuitive interface; that’s from 3 years ago. Modern devices from MitoRed and others have multiple LED chips in each lens and bluetooth connectivity, and an iOS/Android app to control remotely. The panel can also modulate output of the LEDs from 1-100% of their power. These are all great improvements, but those newer panels are about 50% pricier than the one I got.

[One side note: I believe that red/NIR LED panels started with hobbyist indoor marijuana growers. They connected with Chinese suppliers, and those suppliers delivered. Initial “red light panels” used those same LEDs. At this point, the red light industry has their own specialty supplies for LED chips at specific frequencies, but things had to start somewhere. IMHO, that was a positive unintended outcome from that small green industry. Raise a glass – or something.]

One of the newest bits of research was noted in a YouTube interview Energize Naturally: Infrared Light Benefits Explained with [medical] Dr. Roger Seheult. He’s talking about new research about red light and our retina. Seheult notes that our retina have the highest density of mitochondria of any cells; the need to provide low-latency conversion of optical signals to electrical is quite demanding. One could say that our retina are the canaries of our mitochondrial health. I still have a “bad” LED night light in my bathroom. When entering the bathroom in the dead of night, I cover my eyes with my arm with the inside of my elbow and am still affected with the “brightness” of that tiny light. On his own YT channel, Seheult has some great content advocating frequently getting out in the sun. He has achieved some remarkable health outcomes by sun-drenching hospitalized patients with certain viral infections. He is mostly in the “get out in the sun” camp. I don’t think he has ever advocated red light appliances; that’s fine with me.

With light-shifting displays, Apple is clearly cognizant of the issues with “blue light” radiation; I’m certain they are aware of positive health outcomes of sunlight, red/NIR light bulbs, and red light appliances. If they want to add sensors to devices to measure that we’re getting a daily “healthy dosage”, that’s fine with me.

During the 2008 Olympics, there was a controversy with modified consumer cameras that could take photos in the IR spectrum – seeing through athletes’ clothing. I believe the government response was to restrict cameras so it was difficult to look into the IR spectrum with consumer cameras. While tech-peeping is deplorable, this ban was truly unfortunate. We were blinded to observe the abundance of IR radiation outdoors – and its scarcity indoors. Children and other DIYers rarely did any science projects with red/NIR cameras, because they could have been used for mischief. Zimmerman’s paper and others help shine a light on the red/NIR spectrum (and the science of light in general). This is a largely unexplored venue into our overall health – our Apple Health. Both new Apple products using IR sensors and their marketing message will be fine by me. @Leo , I’d love for Jason to be alerted about this discussion; I fondly hope he blogs about it. I sent a message in a bottle to Luke Miani and made a comment on a couple of enthusiast websites. Maybe businesses in the Red Light industry would benefit by advertising on TWiT.

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I’m just pleased to know that the x-ray specs of my youth might indeed be real.

Seriously, great stuff. Thanks for the info and an interesting twist to the IR rumor!


I wonder if having additional sources of IR indoors will interfere with people’s IR remote controls though? (Not that moving away from IR to radio based remote control (Remote control - Wikipedia) would necessarily be bad, but it does mean a lot of home automation using IR blasters would become useless.)

Fascinating stuff.

Stealing LED car headlamps is a bit of an issue here. It’s claimed this is not for reselling as a car part but for use by marijuana growers. It’s luxury vehicles, Porsches and Range Rovers. Maybe they are starting to use IR emitters too for night vision systems?

This one is in Germany I think…

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That’s a good question. I set up my “Mito Pro 300” panel point blank in front of my TV and AT&T U-Verse set top box. I turned on all 60 LEDs: (630, 660, 830, and 850nm) simultaneously at full blast. The red LEDs are rather bright. Both the TV and the U-Verse remotes worked flawlessly; that was a bit of a surprise. Panels are a bit more powerful than they were 3 years ago, but I’d guess remotes would still work fine against the current generation of panels.

Screw-in red/NIR bulbs should also be just fine – our incandescent bulbs were kicking out a fair amount of red/NIR 20 years ago.

Some LED enthusiasts react badly when I tell them about the biological problem with narrow-spectrum LEDs. I don’t quite understand the threat: lighting LEDs are (and will remain) just fine. We just need to supplement them a little and dial down on the blue spectrum at night. Easy peasy.

I hope one of the Apple bloggers will break this story, and I hope I’m right about Apple’s future intentions.

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Apple has many of their own data centers and is using those for its AI cloud. They use Google or AWS for storage mostly.